Sunday, May 29, 2011

Winding Down with a Study of South America

We are nearing the end of our study of ancient civilizations. Last week we finished looking at the Aztecs. These next two upcoming weeks we will study the geography of South America and the Incas. It is getting harder for students to listen and focus as they anticipate the end of school. It is also getting harder for me to keep their attention. This behavior is typical, however, and students seem to continue to learn despite their eagerness for the end.
South America does have interesting geography. It is in South America the world’s largest rain forest and river exist. South America also has the Andes Mountains which stretch the length of its west coast. They are the longest, as well as second highest mountains in the world.  
Finally, we will look at the Inca civilization after we finish our South American maps. The Incas were an amazing culture that was able to rule an empire encompassing more than 9 million people and almost half a million square miles. They created stone citadels without mortar, and suspension bridges from fields of grass. They were a unique and amazing people.
The pictures that follow show students working on South American maps and using the iTouch as they read in Jr. Scholastic about Brazil.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Public Works, Chocolate Day, and the Aztecs

As we come to the end of the year, kids are having a harder time sitting quietly and paying attention. I, too, am suffering from Spring Fever. This week though we had some events to hold our interest. First of all, we continued with our study of the Maya civilization. Then on Wednesday the city came and presented its Public Works displays. Tualatin City workers created stations in the lower parking lot for students to experience the different services the city has for its citizens. The kids got to run recycle relays, sit in a police car, and participate in various other exhibits.
Finally, we declared Friday to be our Chocolate Day! The Mayas and Aztecs were the first civilizations to enjoy the benefits of chocolate, and so we celebrated their discovery. Students were very excited to be able to eat candy in class, unfortunately I think a few consumed a little too much. Hopefully, no one came home sick.
We also began our study of the Aztecs last week, and will continue to learn about them through next week. They were a very interesting people who built a beautiful capital city, Tenochtitlan, that was beyond anything in Europe at the time. Next week will be engaging as we study Aztec daily life, and ponder why they sacrificed.
Below are pictures of students enjoying Chocolate Day and participating in the Public Works displays.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mayan Culture and Mayan Stelae

This week students were introduced to the Maya and discovered that they were a very sophisticated and intelligent civilization. They found the Mayas were one of the few ancient cultures to have a number system with zero, and learned that the Maya developed a very accurate calendar system based on the study of astronomy. They also learned about Mayan religion and that the Mayas practiced human sacrifice. This topic always grabs the attention of every student, and I try not to focus on it too much. However, it always proves to be high interest.
Students also learned that the Maya created stelae, tall stone pillars of bas-relief that commemorated a Mayan ruler by recording the history and achievements of the ruler. These stone columns stood as tall as ten feet and were filled with very complicated glyphs and carvings. So as a project, last week students were asked to create their own personal paper stela. Their stela was to show events, achievements, and goals students might have had to date. I always enjoy this assignment because it illustrates the personality of each child and the stelae are so colorful. We put them up in column fashion on the board, to create tall pillars, much as the Maya did with their stela.
Pictures today are of students holding their own stela.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Exploring the World of Latin America

We began our study of Latin America this week by looking at the geography of Middle and South America. It is fun to examine the major land features of our neighbors to the south. I like to have the kids use big laminated maps of the areas and draw over the features using overhead pen that can be wiped off. It allows them to answer questions and experience the geography in a hands-on way.
After reading about the Americas, we then focused on the Caribbean region and completed maps to help us learn the three important groups of islands that make up the West Indies. It is a very short study, but a great introduction to Latin America.
This next week we will focus entirely on the Mayan civilization. This is a fascinating culture with mysteries that archeologists are just beginning to unravel. Over the 14 years that I have been teaching about them, some mysteries have been solved and new theories have developed. It is exciting to see the exploration of a more recently discovered culture.
By the way I am planning for students to have a Chocolate Day on the 20th of May. The Mayas and Aztecs were some of the first civilizations to experience chocolate. I invite students to bring in chocolate to share with their peers, while we read, learn and study about chocolate.
Below you will see pictures of students working with the big laminated maps and completing their Caribbean maps. (I wasn't able to get student iMovies posted, but I will work on it.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Farewell to Our China and Japan Unit

Last week students ended their study of Asia by completing a commercial about an ancient Chinese or Japanese topic.  These commercials are a really fun creative way for kids to show what they have researched. Making the commercial does take some time, but I never find students who are unengaged.  On Monday we will enjoy watching each other’s work and I hope to embed some of their work in next week’s blog.  So check back to see if I am able to post some of our class iMovies. (Keep your fingers crossed!)
Our final unit of study for this school year will be a focus on Latin America. In this unit we learn the geography of our Middle and South American neighbors, and also the history/culture of the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas. I enjoy studying these civilizations and find students do to. Recently unraveling Mayan mysteries has become easier for Mayan experts because they can connect more with each other through the Internet. So, often what we learn in class is new and cutting edge. I’ve also found students are fascinated by the Aztec practice of sacrifice, and are amazed at Inca innovations that helped them to survive in the high Andes. The end of the year is quickly coming, but hopefully we will be too busy learning to notice.
Below are pictures of students working on their commercials and taking their China/Japan unit test.